Straight away, we want to be very clear. 

If someone is 100% firm on their divorce decision, they are a rule-out for Discernment Counseling.

We have no interest in getting people to revisit a firm decision.
Nor are we interested in bringing in their spouse for discernment work when there is no more discernment going on.  

So who is suitable for Discernment Counseling?

The research is clear: divorce is rarely a quick, definitive decision.
Often months or years go by, with a lot of ups and downs. Much of that journey happens without telling the other spouse just how seriously divorce is being considered. People spends months or years with “divorce ambivalence.”  They are good candidates for Discernment Counseling at the point when they have told their spouse about their doubts.

Now if this leaning-out spouse is willing to put divorce off the table and work hard on the relationship, they are candidates for couples therapy, not Discernment Counseling. Go for it!  But often this person is demoralized about the possibility of change and therefore is unsure about doing couples therapy.

Here are the kinds of couples we serve in Discernment Counseling:

  • They both know that divorce is on the table. It's a spoken reality between them.
  • One spouse is leaning towards divorce but is not completely sure, and usually the other is leaning in, wanting to work on repairing the marriage.
  • They both are willing to know what Discernment Counseling involves and sign up for it. (No dragging in a partner and no “surprises” in our office!)

While the person who wants to save the marriage may much prefer running straight into marriage counseling, they understand their spouse is not motivated to do the heavy work because they’re not sure they want to stay.

Most leaning-out spouses think they have just two paths: stay together without change or divorce.

In Discernment Counseling, we open up a third path: to stay for six months of all-out effort couples therapy, with divorce off the table, and then re-evaluate.

But before making a decision on the third path, couples in Discernment Counseling go through a remarkable process of better understanding what has happened to the marriage and each person’s contributions to the problems. 

Couples expand their narratives in powerful ways. This is done through individual time, to allow deeper challenge from the therapist without the other spouse in the room, followed by sharing what they learned with their spouse.  

If the couple goes on to divorce, we want them to have healthier future relationships and avoid another divorce.  Remarriage divorce rates are high in part because people have not learned enough about their own relational struggles and patterns from their first divorce. The more we can own our role in mistakes and contributions to the last divorce, the greater chance we have to self-correct in a new relationship.

Some unique features of Discernment Counseling are
that we have the opportunity to talk about:

  • What good marriage therapy could look like
  • How their prior couples therapy may have gone badly
  • Why couples therapy would differ this time
  • What individual work each person would have to do in order to improve themselves in a new version of the marriage (since it is clear this marriage as it exists today is unsustainable to one spouse.

To return to our first point: this is not for the completely decided, but we know from research that even when couples have filed for divorce, divorce ambivalence is still common (in 40% of divorcing couples, one or both spouses not certain about whether divorce is the right path for the marriage).